The David vs. Goliath sci-fi copyright battle between Paramount Studios and the makers of a crowdsourced Star Trek fan fiction movie nears its glorious conclusion, with a judge determining this morning that the dispute will head to a jury trial.
U.S. District Court Judge R. Gary Klausner declined on Wednesday to grant summary judgement against Axanar Productions, which sought to make a film that takes place in the Star Trek, two decades before the events of the original TV series, while also denying Axanar’s motion for summary judgment on its behalf.
As part of Wednesday’s heavily Star Trek-phrased ruling [PDF], the judge found that portions of Axanar’s production — including its main character Garth — do fall under copyright controlled by Paramount and CBS.
For example, the judge found that the character of Garth is not as obscure as the production company claims because he was featured in a novel, television episode, and full-length film through CBS and Paramount.
“Indeed, defendants use and reference so many distinctive and widely recognized elements from the Star Trek universe that the Axanar Works invoke Star Trek in the minds of viewers,” the ruling states. “Together these elements are ‘qualitatively important’ enough for a finding of substantial similarity, even if they are ‘relatively small in proportion to the entire work.’”
However, by denying summary judgment, a jury will be asked to determine if a reasonable person would find the production to be an actual infringement on the copyright.
The drawn-out ordeal began at the end of 2015, when the Paramount filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against the Axanar filmmakers, claiming — among other allegations — that the studio actually owned the Klingon language.
The filmmakers filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that, among other claims, numerous individual elements of their planned production — including costumes, names of planets and places, Starfleet emblems, and the Klingon language — are not protected by copyright.
A judge denied the request, taking issue with the argument, explaining that while some individual aspects of the Star Trek universe may not enjoy copyright protection, those same pieces do get that protection when considered together.
A counterclaim filed by Axanar in May sought declaratory relief that its works are non-infringing and mentioning that the company was in settlement talks with the Paramount and CBS. However, two months later, the larger companies said they were still seeking judgment against Axanar.